City Council members pushed back on key tenets of the NYPD’s new crime fighting strategies and demanded justification for its multibillion-dollar budget at a hearing Friday.
The discussion, part of ongoing preliminary budget hearings this month, came as the rate of violent crime has risen in the city, prompting Mayor Eric Adams and the NYPD to push for a more aggressive approach to policing. But some Council members, while not expressly pushing to “defund the police" -- a term that's proven divisive -- said they were concerned that billions of dollars to finance the NYPD could be used instead for social services. They argue such reallocations to other city agencies could also increase safety on the streets and in the subways.
The debate reflects a citywide conversation as the city returns to normalcy -- and as commuters return to public transit, which has seen a series of high-profile incidents of violence.
“We’re working very hard to restore that sense of order, that sense of calm, that sense of safety into the transit system,” Chief of Transit Jason Wilcox told members of the Council’s Public Safety Committee. “We’re addressing quality of life.”
There has been a dramatic increase in arrests in the transit system this year due to a new focus on issuing summonses for minor crimes. More than 1,000 have been issued so far this year for smoking, plus 200 for urination and 470 for “being outstretched,” or taking up more than one seat on a train car, according to statistics provided by the NYPD during the hearing.
But when Queens Councilmember Tiffany Cabán asked “for the total number of officers tasked with removing homeless New Yorkers from the subways,” and how much it costs, Wilcox didn’t directly answer. He also rejected the idea that police were “removing” the homeless.
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell then interjected. “We’re not removing people from the subway; we’re endeavoring to provide services to them to get them out of the subway, a condition they probably don’t want to be in,” she said.
Sewell added that if people are not breaking the law in the subway system, police are not forcing them out.
Sewell opened the hearing by ticking off statistics showing an increase in arrests this year in a variety of major crime categories compared to the same time last year: Homicides (20%), rape (40%), felony assault (18%), and robbery (24%).
In all, the NYPD budget for the current fiscal year is $5.6 billion, 90% of which is personnel costs, Sewell said. With pensions and debt service factored in, the budget is roughly $11 billion, according to the Citizens Budget Commission. Adams’s proposed budget would leave police spending relatively flat next year, though overtime costs could exceed projections.
Still, Caban said, “your budget is bigger than the Ukrainian military [$4.2 billion].” She then listed city agencies providing social services that get a fraction of the money that the NYPD does. “It sounds to me like these agencies are facing the challenge of actually doing more with less because of the billions per year your department demands.”
Brooklyn Councilmember Charles Barron similarly clashed with NYPD brass by saying that policing doesn’t improve public safety, with money wasted on overtime and legal settlements involving allegations of police abuse. He said money needs to be moved from the “bloated police budget” and into social services.
“You just said crime has gone up -- with $11 billion and 50,000 police officers,” he said. “The causes of crime is not a lack of policing. The causes of crime is poverty, unemployment, mental health, illness, drug addiction, homelessness, education or lack thereof. The answer to crime is not more policing.”
He also cited the names of those killed by police officers, and referred to Sewell being a Black woman. “We don’t need a change in the complexion or gender of the police commissioner, we need a change in the direction of police policies,” Barron said.
NYPD’s top brass also detailed a key component of Adams’ plan to stem the rise in gun violence since the pandemic: The new neighborhood safety teams, made up of groups of officers who target those who carry guns in the 30 most violence precincts. So far, 26 of the planned 34 neighborhood safety teams have been deployed, with 176 officers now on the street. Ultimately, more than 500 officers could be on these teams. The teams deployed this week and executed 17 arrests, according to the NYPD.
Similar squads in the past used violence against New Yorkers at disproportionate rates, which is why they were discontinued under the previous NYPD administration. But, Sewell said, “we learned from the mistakes of the past when we reimplemented these teams.”